Painting the masterpiece that becomes your freight-finding strategy requires the development of specific business skills. These skills are like the tools of an artist: easel, pallet and brushes.
Without an easel standing secure on its three legs, the artist would have a difficult time painting his masterpiece. The same can be said of the micro-carrier developing a solid foundation in finding and securing loads that are consistently profitable.
Using the easel approach and applying it to the cycles of the trucking and transportation industry makes good business sense. Shippers, brokers and a load board are the three legs of that easel; all must work together to make the most efficient use of your money, time and equipment.
The mental picture of an easel reminds you, the micro-carrier, to use all of your resources to keep your truck loaded and rolling with profitable freight. An easel needs all three legs; without one or two, it just topples over. In the trucking industry, using shippers, brokers and a load board like they were legs on an easel to provide needed stability means you don’t overlook one or more of them in your never-ending quest for freight.
Let’s examine each of those three legs a little more closely so they can work for you.
Brokers work to match shippers that have freight to haul, one load or hundreds, with truckers wanting to haul that same freight. Choose the brokers you work with carefully. There are organizations of reputable brokers whose members must meet high standards in their business dealings. Have a basic contract for each shipment so you know what you’re signing. Try to establish a good working relationship with each broker you use on a regular basis, and see that your drivers understand that brokers are customers, just like shippers.
A broker will ask about your Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration safety record, how many years on the road, your insurance liability, and lots of other details because they have to know whether yours is a reliable trucking company. And in many cases, a broker is almost like a banker, because a broker may pay you for hauling the shipment before he gets paid by the shipper. A good, reliable broker is the second leg of your three-legged easel business model.
With a small trucking company, you must find, sign and keep shippers whose needs mesh well with your company’s assets. Keep your regular shippers happy by giving them spectacular customer service and you will have a core of constant, consistent shippers.
For the majority of owner-operators and small trucking companies, because of the size of their operations, it’s not unusual to have only one or two shippers providing them with freight. This freight is usually outbound and, in most cases, is the trucking operation’s best revenue producer. It’s the backhaul or inbound freight that presents the biggest challenge for many small carriers. Given the fast pace of trucking logistics, not finding quality backhaul freight costs your company money, often in the form of deadhead miles. This is where the next two legs of your easel come into play.
For many micro-carriers across the country, a load board is the primary means of finding loads. Utilizing a load board daily or frequently can mean the difference between running reliably at a profit or idling at a dock somewhere in a low-freight area. And a load board, of course, is the solution for suddenly having a canceled load for a pre-routed truck. Even if you’ve got reliable sources for shipments, sometimes things happen that are beyond your control.
The best business practice for dealing with the unexpected is to have several contingency plans in place. The three-legged easel approach is not just for emergencies. It is a practical, day-to-day method of conducting business. It gives you and your company a wider spectrum of safety, in that you’re not relying on only one source of freight for the lifeblood of your company.
Example: By using a load board’s truck-to-load ratio and rate-indexing tools, you know when and where to position your trucks to be available for the best loads. By utilizing the radius-to-radius search and ‘available trucks’ posting components, your trucks are in the right place at the right time to haul well-paying freight. And employing the partial load or LTL (less than truckload) component of a load board can provide revenue to help pay for those sometimes unavoidable deadhead miles to move a truck to an area with better paying freight.
Finally, stay in close contact with your customer service representatives and account managers at the load board of your choice. He or she can point you toward using many features of a well-rounded load board that wouldn’t be available to you unless you spent a lot of time doing research and calculations. Load boards offer many benefits beyond just finding freight.
In order to compete in the freight-hauling industry today, a micro-carrier must have an edge over literally hundreds of thousands of other companies also competing for the same freight. Having a three-legged easel approach to finding freight, keeping your trucks loaded, and building your business can mean a big difference as to whether you’re profitable and how much your company grows.
Each one of these legs has a defined purpose in the success of your trucking company. It’s the combination of all three—shipper, broker and load board—that will become the foundation of your prosperity. The shipper provides your greatest return, the broker augments and fills the revenue holes the direct shippers inevitably leave, and the load board becomes your savior when canceled or delayed loads and other unavoidable events occur. Lacking just one leg can topple a three-legged easel, leaving your masterpiece a broken pile on the floor.
No masterpiece has ever been created without the right tools, skills and effort.